The very first lens I ever bought for an interchangeable lens camera. Somewhere back in the 1970s. Still works.


Back when I was a poor, poor student I worked part time at a "hi-fi" store that was situated at the bottom of a high rise dormitory just on the edge of the UT campus. The bottom two floors of the building were for retail and restaurants. Across the walk way from our hi-fi shop was Austin's preeminent camera store, Capitol Camera. They had all the good stuff. When I started working in the shop in 1976 everyone around me was also into cameras and photography. Really into it.

I'd been photographing with a Canon G3 QL17 and loved it but the path forward was obviously an SLR with a "real" lens on the front of it. I saved for months and months and bought the least expensive Canon SLR at the time. It was a Canon TX and it came in a kit with that 50mm f1.8 FD lens (above). The camera, lens and I were inseparable. Home-rolled Tri-X film from a bulk loader and a membership to the Ark Cooperative Darkroom rounded out the my early and long initiation into the wonderful world of photography. 

The camera got traded in a long time ago. It was perfectly usable but pretty primitive. The top shutter speed of 1/500th of a second was the sticking point that moved me along to my next camera. I think that one was a Canon EF...

But the lens stayed around. This morning I put it on a cheap adapter and then onto a Leica SL camera. This puts me mostly back into all manual territory but with a few perks. One is that I can use the rig in aperture priority automatic. Another is that I can use auto-ISO. And the best perk is that I can magnify part of the frame for very accurate (manual) focusing. It's important to also know that you are always working in the stopped down mode with these adapted lenses. Whatever aperture is set on the lens is the aperture you are viewing and focusing with. But it's neither an impediment nor a blessing. It just is.

Even though this particular lens is about 46 years old the aperture ring works fine, the blades stop down correctly and the focusing ring is still mostly smooth and still pretty well dampened. The glass is clean and clear and the distance scale, even when the lens is used on an inexpensive adapter, is accurate. 

In our current time when lenses have become huge and everyone seems obsessed with optical perfection it's a wonderful vacation to work with a "lesser" lens. But I don't mean to imply that there's anything wrong with the lens. Just that it only has six elements in five groups, there are only six aperture blades and they are NOT curved for bokeh enhancement. and the lens coatings are primitive when compared to current products. 

If you have an interest in working with a vintage product like this you'll find zillions of them on the big auction site and generally there are always some available on KEH.com. Expect to pay less than $50 for all but the most exquisitely "mint" copies. In exchange you'll get a small, light, easy to handle lens that you'll want to stop down to about f 3.5 or f4.0 in order to get nicely sharp images. More aperture....up to f8.0 keeps improving the sides and corners and....adds to the already sharp central core of the images. 

When I came back home from my exploration with this old friend I was so happy with the way it worked in the "field" and the way the images looked in Lightroom that I called my local camera merchant and asked my expert if they had any other Canon FD glass in their used inventory. I'm currently looking for three focal lengths. I'd like a 35mm f2.0, a 50mm f1.4 and any one of an assortment of 85-100mm lenses. As long as they work and the optics are good I'll take em. 

Why? Because sometimes perfection isn't as perfect as it's cracked up to be. And most of these lenses are still very good performers with unique "fingerprints." Couple that with "smaller and lighter" and you have the winning formula for making the kind of images I like. Kind of consider it embracing "good enough" in trade for smaller, lighter and less stuffy. 

By the way, the kid is doing well. Eating like a horse (I forgot that 26 year olds can really put it away...) and recovering quickly. 

Here's some images from this morning: 

This is where I park when I go downtown. It's shaded from about 1pm onward. 
It's on a quiet, non-residential street and it's in front of law offices, etc. 
It's safe and I've never had to pay a meter there...
That white car is mine.

This place closed early in the pandemic (2020) and nothing has happened yet with the space. 
I'm endlessly curious about it. It's a really nice restaurant and bar space...

note the presence of direct light and no flare. Seems people could make 
very satisfactory, cheap lenses even 46 years ago.

 I like the black and white straight out of the Leica SL. It's nice.

A different color palette.

Plenty detailed. The lens has a decent ability to deliver resolution and sharpness when used 
at f4.5 or f5.6. I'd use it to this day; even for work.

It's safe to presume that what were considered failings of earlier lenses used on earlier digital cameras has been largely remedied by toning down the AA filters on newer, higher res digital cameras and also making the filter stacks thinner so light rays didn't get clipped as they moved toward the corners and edges of sensors. Better sensor technology lifts all lenses. Even these older, "made-for-film" lenses we've held onto. 

Got any old Canon lenses sitting around? Ready to get rid of that 100mm f2.0 or f2.8? No use for that 50mm f1.4 that's just sitting on the edge of your desk in your Summer house? No space in your Leica drawer for "lesser" glass? We can help.

Oppressively hot here but I'm staying indoors and acting as the boy's butler this week. I'm hoping for a generous tip but you know the reputation these millennials have.....


Unknown said...

Ah yes, the FD 50mm 1.8. For forty years, apart from a Sinar P view camera, I only owned one camera - the original Canon F1 (2 bodies, actually) and a set of FD lenses. The vast majority of my shots were with that original "kit" 50mm lens.

Congratulations Kirk on showing how beautifully that "ancient" lens can render images even on today's more "sophisticated" gear.

So glad to hear that Ben is recovering quickly.

Unknown said...

P.S. I just realized the previous post says from Unknown and I know you don't like that. I am Jon Maxim and I also just posted a comment about preferring Peak Design straps on the earlier post. I don't understand Blogger. It used to publish my name on the post but now, even though I am logged on, it is saying Unknown. Not trying to hide anything.

Jon Maxim

EdPledger said...

Glad you rediscovered vintage Canon. Although plasticky, some of the FDn lenses are pretty good. The 35 2.8 in particular, although I prefer my chrome nose 35, 50 and 100 for their heft and feel. And not surprisingly, some of the slower versions at a particular focal length are surprisingly good, lighter and less expensive, especially if you are going to be shooting stopped down anyway…You may notice some CA wide open on the fast ones, but most Canons are just fine stopped down a little. My fave is the chrome nose 100.

Anonymous said...

My first lens was a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 AI-S and I still have it and use it. Really like that it has a hard stop at infinity focus.


Unknown said...

While on the topic of "way back then" lenses- my Nikon F (original from 1969 no F2,3,4,5,6) came with the 50mm f1.4 the first lens I purchased was the 35mm f2 followed by the 135 f3.5. Have them, use them (adopted to m4/3 and Fuji aps-c) and still work like new (perhaps with a few bruises and scratch here and there). I might add I still have that Nikon F on a shelf not used is I don't know how long a time.
Happy to hear the "kid" is doing fine.

Eric Rose said...

Love the images! Back in the film days Erna and I had a blended family. I was Nikon and she was Canon. She shot an F1 and T90, me whatever was the latest F model. We both had very extensive lens collections. Erna has kept pretty much all of her old FD lenses which I use on my GH5 from time to time.

You are so right about the old stuff holding it's own. Exactly why I have never got all wound up about what everyone is lusting over at any given time. If it was good enough to make a buck back then, it's good enough to use now. Maybe a bit simplistic, but it's worked for me.

Heading off camping for the next week in Peggy The Dancing Hippopotamus. I will be taking my Leica M4, 35mm f2 TTArtisan, 50mm Leica Summicron and Leica 90mm Summicron. Limiting myself to 2 rolls of 36 exposure Ilford FP4 Plus. Happy snapping will be done with my Samsung S20.

I really love your B&W images Kirk!!


MikeR said...

uh-oh ... I'm looking for an FD 50 too. Competition! The prices are gonna skyrocket.

Marcio K said...

When I become more interest in photography / video, and bought a Panasonic GH2 (great video, even today), I had little money to buy lenses (specially in a country with a 100% tax import). Then I discovered lens adapters, which were not very common in that days; hence, the older manual lenses were very cheap.

Got a FD 50mm f/1.4 (around $30), a FD 135 f/2.5 (great lens, around $80), a Vivitar Series 1 105mm f/2.5 (VERY sharp, for less than $50, cleaned, pristine glass) and a FD 35mm f/2 "concave" (the pricier of the bunch, since it was discovered for video in that time, $199).

The FDs goot a huge boost because of a video from Media Division (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8Il_l3tu6Q) that stated that most FD lenses are almost equal to their K35 cine lenses counterparts. Specially the 35mm f/2 concave have a huge follow boost.

Recently I went to eBay to take a look in the prices of the 35mm concave...I've paid $199 and...it is between $899 and $1499 for a copy like mine (sometimes you find one around $500). Had some thoughts about keeping it - could buy a brand new lens for the money, and maybe the lens have a more decent use than from an amateur like me...

Put the lens in my Fujifilm X-S10, take a shot wide open from our cat, and opened the file in the computer for pixel peeping. No, the lens will stay - amazingly detailed but without the "hard" sharpness from modern lenses, beautiful colors, the result was incredible (much better than my previous m43 cameras, probably beacuse of the thinner sensor stack).

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Marcio, What a great story. I'm jealous of your timing but happy for you! Those lenses really were great and continue to be very competitive. I have my hopes set on finding at least a couple classic FDs. Thanks. KT

Jim /granitix /Longviewer said...

Sorry, Pentax smc-M/A user here. Love the M85/2 in particular, plus it and the M135/3.5 are great fast telephotos with ยต43 bodies.

Robert said...

I'm 64. When I was 21 I used to stare into the window of a camera store that had a Canon F1 on sale for £600. One day it disappeared then reappeared two months later on sale at £300. Turns out a guy bought it for bird photography and couldn't deal with the weight so traded it for an Olympus system. I bought it with a 50mm lens. I then acquired a number of FD lenses. I once took photographs in -50 degrees in Canada with it. That camera would have lasted me a lifetime if digital had not come along. I tried to resist by buying a Minolta film scanner but you all know what happened with film labs and the desire for instantaneous results.

Long story short, after a succession of 6mp, 8mp, 10mp, 16mp, 24mp digital cameras from various manufacturers, last year I bought a used Fuji XT1 and lens convertor, which I now use as you describe in this article. I love the 28mm and the 100mm macro lenses. My children prefer the pictures I take of the grandchildren with this rig more than my Nikon DSLR. Beautiful colour, more natural rendition of eyes and maybe better because Grandpa is having FUN again!

Unknown said...

I miss hi-fi shops in general and Audio Concepts in particular. I still have (in storage) a Beomaster 4400 and Beovox M70 speakers bought there. Just haven't had the heart to push them along. Oh well, back to obsessing over which Canon wide angle zoom to buy.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

"I miss hi-fi shops in general and Audio Concepts in particular."

Me too. It was a fun period in my own history. And the gear was wonderful.